Alone in the Badlands

a bit of an epic as I wrote it all up for my email bike travellers group- many of them are hot on my heels and wanting travel info...so you guys get it as well.

 

As I crossed into Azerbaijan, there was Leon -after just 24 hours he was hightailing it back to Georgia and here is why

he was stung by police 3 times for money, ripped off in shops twice being made to pay 5 times what local people were, was mugged and beaten badly - they took his camera and valusables and then the policeman who was supposed to be helping him instead helped himself to the rest of Leon's stuff! This all combined with the very poor roads (see below) convinced Leon he had seen enough and he is now doing the 4000 miles diversion around this part of the world- back to Turkey and a ferry to Russia.

 

So, it was a bit of a "take a deep breath moment when I saw Leon and the state of him at the border , the other biker who had crossed with me (Pedro the Portuguese guy R1200GS, 5 days from Lisbon to Azerbaijan- what a sore backside he must have) decided to head back into Georgia with Leon after hearing what Azerbaijan is like - he had said he would ride with me to Baku - what happened to that Latino sense of chivalry???
so that left me on my own facing the badlands -  I have to confess I have never faced a new country with such a felling of trepidation.

first customs and immigration - 2 hours in total for me, ok leaving Georgia, I leapfrogged to the front of the queue - trucks are separate anyway, but I also went to the front of the cars- which not all the cars appreciated, then the guards waved me through - I am not sure but I think they thought Pedro (who had arrived 45 mins ahead of me) was my husband and therefore I must go and join him at customs.

getting into azerbaijan was  a bit time consuming 
3 sections/offices to go through
1st guy is the toughie and will demand to know why you are in the country, but he doesn't speak good english - look out for the gold toothed army sergeant type (you'll know him when you see him), because he is friendly and will interpret as well as keep the ball rolling
you will be told you only have 3 days to transit, however they make it sound like you personally , it IS only the bike. just agree with whatever the guy says and fill in his custom form -

I did NOT pay any money to anyone, there may have been a suggestion but I acted dumb.

2nd section was the immigration guys- they offered me tea and fags and were fine - especially when I said no to smoking - a Muslim country and women do not smoke in public, of course a different proposition with the tea- I slugged it down.

thrid section army boys - a bit jobsworth though keen to practise their English skills

Then it took me 6 hours to do just over 200 miles into Azerbaijan, despite me being in  a hurry and here is why:

the first 20 miles off-road style with lots of mud and ruts then onto sort of tarmac but
lots of roadworks, meaning minor diversions through rutted, muddy and gravel bits, even if not raining they will still be muddy as they regularly water the tracks to make them less dusty - however lethally slippery on a bike at times.
Consider it a shakedown in preparation for the 'Stans - part of my pannier rack now needs welding- but that is always a given on a bike trip like this.

Police - stopped me twice in the first 100 miles, on principle I don't pay anything, however they were genuine in stopping me (unlike Ukraine) I HAD been speeding and they caught me on radar and camera, I saw the flash from an unmarked car then got pulled up at the next checkpoint 3 miles down the road.
I also think they tried to pull me over on the muddy section but they weren't very obvious about it - just whistles as I zoomed past so I ignored them (roadblocks are different proposition though).

They take documents and ask for money, and show the ticket book and the receipts they will write, so reasonably above board. i tell my usual story-
No money on me, I need to get to the bank in Baku,
they suggest local bank but I say problems with card need head office in Baku and that is why I am going there
I did have to play the trump card as well which meant flashing my decoy wedding ring and saying my husband is in Baku with all the money and that is why I have none.
It still took quite a bit of just doing sorrowful looks and saying "no money" (RADA - eat your heart out).
So, I got away with it twice- I also tell them I am quite happy to go to the consul with the documents and sort it out there.
It is hard to keep to the speed limit as there are few speed signs- seems to be 90kms top speed on the open highways and then 50/70kms as soon as you are in a town/city which is marked by the town name on a sign (not a speed sign).
once I started going slower then no more being pulled over, I tried to take my cue from the other drivers, as the locals do seem to know when there are speed traps around, but that wasn't foolproof as one Lada got chased down in front of me and he had been fairly careful - so take your chances and see how you get on.

they also have speed cameras/radar on mud sections - they were quite impressed with my speed on one of those!

so that is about it
I am still in one piece, although tired as it was a very long haul yesterday and then I camped rough in a field- no problems though except some weird howling noises (tyre levers by my side at the ready). Then up at 5.00am, tent away and back on the road, the final 200kms into Baku are pretty good, no roadworks and reasonable road surface.

I arrived at the hostel, thinking I had plenty of time for the Kazakh embassy- but schoolgirl error, had not put my watch forward an hour at the border, luckily got there just before they closed- allegedly 9.30-11.30am they are open.

easy application form and process $20, one photo and it will be ready at 4pm the next day -actually they said 3 days but I did my really distressed look (RADA again) at the amount of time and nicely asked for it tomorrow and they said OK (and no, it was not a case of me fluttering eyelashes, as it was a female receptionist dealing with me).

I then went to ferry ticket office- and have been told there is a ferry tomorrow evening  and that I should be fine to get it even though I can't pick up my visa until 4pm - we shall see what happens but fingers crossed as I'd liek to get going.

- as you can see, Azerbaijan is nowhere near as bad as Leon made out - I have not been ripped off or anything like that and everyone here seems very shocked at Leon's experiences - in fact the local police have just bought me tea and helped me to repair my broken windscreen.